Work in Progress: McKinney Avenue Trolley Map - Current Service

This is pretty much the finished product, I think, barring any major errors. The MATA website states that there are 38 trolley stops along the route, but I can only find 37, even after multiple “drives” along the entire route in Google Street View. 

I changed the background colour from silver to beige after doing some prints: the whole thing just looked too drab and grey once on paper. This works much better and make the whole map seem a little visually lighter.

Points of interest are taken directly from the current official MATA map, although far more accurately located. The only addition is the the historic trolley barn, which I’ve also highlighted by using the M-Line’s distinctive maroon colour. The map also usefully includes MATA’s contact information and general hours of operation. The whole map is formatted to print out perfectly on a US Letter sheet with half-inch margins all around – handy for tourists to print out and bring along for the ride!

The route line itself shows direction of travel, as well as where the route is double-tracked (down McKinney Avenue itself). I’ve made an effort to show where on the road the tracks actually are – left-running, right-running or center-running – while the little “half-circle” stop symbols indicate which side of the road riders should stand on to board the trolley. Full circle markers are reserved for those stops where the trolley physically changes direction: the turntable at Uptown, and the current southern terminus at St. Paul & Ross.

Stops are generally named after the street they are on, with the nearest cross street as the second part of the name. This only leads to one less than optimal result, when the Cole & Lemmon stop is immediately followed by Lemmon & Cole. A few exceptions to the rule are also made for stops near notable landmarks – the Dallas Museum of Art, for example.

DART light rail stations are shown, but lower in the information hierarchy than the streetcar, or even the Katy Trail (in orange), a popular and important multi-use (bike/pedestrian) path that links Uptown and Downtown. The DART line up to Cityplace/Uptown station actually runs in a tunnel underneath the freeway, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s really an important thing to show on a map like this.

I’ve also made two other versions of this map: one for when the spur along Olive Street opens (reportedly very soon), and one for the final configuration with the full loop through the Arts District. All up, I’ve probably only spent 20 hours or so on this project, and that includes drawing the base map from scratch. Once I’m finally done, I’ll be reaching out to MATA to see if they’d like to use this map in any way.

Thoughts? Errors? Can anyone tell me where the mysterious missing 38th stop is?

Work in Progress: McKinney Avenue Trolley Map, Dallas, Texas

Thanks to Michael Champlin for inspiring this little project. I’ve been thinking of doing a more geographically-based map for a while now to break out of the routine of always doing diagrammatic transit maps, so when he sent me a link to the actual map (PDF, 5.6MB) that this heritage streetcar system in Dallas, Texas uses, I knew that something better could be done.

So here’s a work-in-progress screenshot. Most of the hard work has been done, but I’m still toying with a few elements here and there and adding the final informational layers on top. I drew the street map by hand in Illustrator, which is time consuming but rewarding. I did actually try to export the streets, parks and rivers from ArcGIS to style up in Illustrator, but got incredibly frustrated with the poor quality of linework from the City of Dallas’ GIS files: wonky curves, non-joined road segments, etc. It’d take me longer to clean that up than just draw it myself, so that’s what I did. At least I know what I’m ending up with when I do it myself!

The main experiment here – that I think is working well – is the bounding box around the two separate northbound and southbound stops along McKinney Avenue that share the same cross street (and therefore the name of the stop). This means I only have to label the stops once!

Other notes: the background grid is in quarter-mile increments, and the typeface is Good Headline Pro, which has a nice old world “Gothic” feel, but with a bit of a modern twist. Also: huge x-height and tiny descenders, which are great for this type of labelling work. The orange line is the Katy Trail, a popular multi-use path that’s an important part of the urban fabric of this part of Dallas.

Thoughts and suggestions?

Work in Progress – Downtown Pittsburgh Neighbourhood Map

Lovely work here, with just enough dimensionality to make things interesting. The “3-D” landmark buildings are nice, but what I really like are the shadows underneath bridges and overpasses that visually lift them up higher than the underlying roads. Some nice insight into workflow, as well – the accuracy of ArcGIS combined with the visual punch some Illustrator work can bring.


Work in progress on neighborhood maps. This map is a part of lager panel that will show bus connections near light rail stations.

I always start with ArcGIS to compile initial data layers, then I style everything in Illustrator. Major landmarks are used to orient transit users in relation to the two-letter stops. The simple 3D shapes can be quickly put together in either Sketchup or directly in Illustrator using ‘extrude and bevel’ tool. 

Last preview of this before the first draft is released! Soon!

(If you’re looking at this on your Tumblr dash, click on the image to view the GIF bigger!)

Happy New Year from Transit Maps!

See you in 2014… here’s a final progress image for the year of the Interstates and U.S. Routes map: everything in the shaded areas is just about done, just parts of Ohio and Kentucky to finalise! Cincinnati is being… difficult.

All the best,


Work in Progress: Simplified Map of All Interstates and U.S. Highways

Map. Almost. Finished.

Seriously. Just a few problem cities to sort out and a couple hundred more labels to add (there’s over 3,000 named places on this map so far!) and the first draft is done. I’ve been working on this for about a year-and-a-half now, but it’s so worth it: this map is the most beautiful piece I’ve ever created.

Work in Progress: Label Placement

Still going with the big project! I’m getting really serious about the accuracy of label placement now, as you can see from this screenshot. The light blue guide lines (they’re drawn lines, not Illustrator guides) use a global colour that occurs nowhere else in the document, so I can easily select and delete them all when I’m done (There are literally thousands of labels on the full map). I’ve set up master labels for all eight cardinal positions, and all the other different situations for labels as well, including cities where multiple lines intersect.

When I need a label, I copy and paste it into my main document and simply snap the guides to a station marker: right away, I know it’s in the correct position, no guesswork involved. Then I type in the name for the label and nudge it left or right until the text lines up precisely with the the outer guide. Don’t think you can simply align your type perfectly based on the type point: each letter is different and will require some adjustment!

Of course, there’ll always be some places where these master placement rules will have to be broken, but these guides will give me instant visual confirmation that the rules have been broken, which can only help!

Note that the guides for the type on the left of the route line in this example align with the cap height, not the height of the lower case ascenders (which are a little taller than the cap height).

Oh, and check out my Layers palette, too: nice and neat and hierarchically organised!

Big Project — Work In Progress Screen Shot

Some people have asked how I’m going on my new big project — a simplified map of all U.S. Highways and Interstates on the one map. Well, here’s where I’m at currently.

Everything in the western half of the map is pretty much finished: the east coast needs to be revisited for consistency and there’s still a whole heap of work to do in the south east. I actually feel that I’ve left the hardest bit until last… which probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, in retrospect. Although I now have a really good feel for how things should work in the grand scheme of things, so it’s actually getting easier as I go. The rules have been set, now I’m just applying them, like solving a logic puzzle.

I like how, even at this scale, the main “hub” cities can be seen clearly — Denver, Minneapolis/St Paul and Chicago have been the hardest to work out so far.

Previous sneak peeks: the Western US  |  City details 

Here’s a new preview of my Highways project to round out the old year. Last time, I showed an overview of most of the western United States: this time I’m zooming way in and showing a selection of smaller cities.

My decision to include all Interstate highways (even tiny spur lines) is having a very interesting effect. The small cities shown here — which on my previous Interstate and US Route maps were all rendered as a single dot at the intersection of roads — are having to be plotted with a startling degree of detail and accuracy to make the junctions between all the roads make sense.

Shown here are Boise, ID; Lincoln, NE; Duluth, MN; Sioux City, IA; Las Vegas, NV; and Salt Lake City, UT, each of which presented their own challenges. Of these, I’m most proud of Sioux City: finding a way to show the short concurrency between US-20, US-75 and the spur Interstate 129 as they cross the Missouri River to I-29 on one bridge, while also showing that US-77 splits from US-75 and crosses the river on a separate bridge to terminate in Sioux City was quite a challenge. Finding a solution that was also aesthetically pleasing and simple to understand was a bonus.

Sometimes I wonder what I’m getting myself into with this project. On my previous road maps, there were maybe five to ten “difficult” junctions like these … but there are multitudes of these small cities on this map, and we’re not even talking about complex “spaghetti junction” cities like New York, the Twin Cities, or Dallas/Fort Worth, to name a few! One at a time, that’s what I keep telling myself…

Happy Holidays from Transit Maps!

I’m signing off for the year to spend some quality time with loved ones, but I’ll see you early in 2013 with more reviews, maps, photos and my own work. I wish you all a safe and happy Christmas and an awesome New Year!

I’ll leave you with a progress screen shot of my big Highways project, which shows both Interstates and numbered US Highways (all of them, even those tiny little two-mile spur Interstates!). It’s really starting to come along nicely, although there is still a lot to be done!